- Spain performed superbly in taking runners-up spot at SheBelieves Cup
- Jorge Vilda's team continue progression after 2019 World Cup
- La Roja "getting closer to the ideal side I envisaged", says their coach
Like countless people around the world, Spain coach Jorge Vilda has had to adapt to the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic and is secluded at home with his family these days. "Work hasn’t really changed much. We’re still getting used to not being at our headquarters and having to work from home... whenever the kids allow it, of course," he says, laughing.
After La Roja’s fine performance at the SheBelieves Cup, Vilda and his coaching staff are taking advantage of the mandatory football shutdown to analyse match footage and hold video-conference meetings as they plan to "continue improving the team", which currently sits 13th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's Ranking.
It also gave him time to chat exclusively to FIFA.com about the team’s rich vein of form as well as the work being undertaken to continue their upward trajectory and deal with the growing expectations of their fans.
FIFA.com: In your maiden appearance at the SheBelieves Cup, Spain recorded victories over Japan (3-1) and England (1-0) and only narrowly lost to USA (1-0). How did you feel after that tournament?
Jorge Vilda: The fact that everyone not only knows us now, but also recognises our qualities, is a source of pride. The team also seem to be getting ever closer to the ideal side that I’ve envisaged – something a lot of us have been striving towards on a daily basis.
The results are the end product, but what stays with me more than anything is the performance of the team and the feelings that they created: we played well against Japan and got a good result; we beat England, something we hadn’t done for seven years; and the only team that defeated us were USA, and even then only from a dead-ball situation in the 87th minute.
What pleased you most about how the team played and in what areas do you see the most room for improvement?
What pleased me most was the way we expressed who we are and showed that we’d progressed since the World Cup. We can impose our game on anyone. Many of our players now firmly believe they can soon be among the best in the world. For my part, I believe we already have players in that category. The tournament was a good opportunity to prove it and they did that.
There’s room for improvement in all facets of our play, but we have to improve our set pieces, both defending and executing them. We can also improve our ability to read games to know precisely what to do at all times. That comes with experience and is something we’ll acquire as we play more and more games.
You have still to beat USA, but of your three games against the world champions in the last 14 months, would you say your meeting at the SheBelieves Cup was the closest?
From an overall perspective, in the 14 months since our first and the third meetings, we’ve improved markedly. The first clash (a 1-0 defeat) was much more open and we looked vulnerable every time they had the ball. At the World Cup, we managed to find a better balance and were more solid, making it harder for them to hurt us going forward, but we couldn’t dominate them on that occasion or really express ourselves.
However, in our third meeting, we managed to play our own game, dictate play, get in their half and create chances. We really had the sense that we could win the game. If you look at the possession stats, at the World Cup they had 58 per cent to our 42 per cent, while this time we had 62 per cent and just before their goal we were up to 85 per cent, which means absolute dominance. If we keep this up, then we have to get a positive result in our next meeting.
Alexia Putellas, one of the stars of your side, was named MVP at the SheBelieves Cup. A leader in the national team and with her club Barcelona, how would you rate her just now?
She’s enjoying the best form of her career, no question. She's performing at a very high level and, when a player is in that kind of moment, they can be sensational, which is how she was at the SheBelieves. Every time she got on the ball, the spectators knew something was going to happen. Now the challenge is for her to maintain that level.
I've known Alexia since she was little, when she started coming to the U-16s, and I know she still has room for improvement. She’s young and, best of all, is passionate about football and understands it very well, which is not something every player has. She has so much quality, sees things before others and executes everything with pace and style.
At the World Cup you underlined the importance of playing a vertical game, being aggressive and moving the ball around quickly, something that is very prevalent now. Apart from the generational transition you have undertaken, what tactical adjustments have best allowed you to step up the rhythm of your play?
We've always had the idea of being a vertical team, with speed down the flanks and, depending on our opponent, possibly pace in the middle too. The thing is, we’ve had to adjust things to make the most of the best players and their attributes. Now we can revel in pacy and mercurial players that have given the team something extra. However, we mustn’t forget our essence and that it always has to help us compete in games. By competing well, we can have possession, circulate the ball quickly and be dangerous in the final third, which is where you make the difference.
With a view to maximising performance, national teams like USA and professional teams like Chelsea take into account the menstrual cycles of their players. Is that something which is also monitored within the Spanish team?
Monitored no, but we’ve always kept track of when the players have their menstrual cycles and how each of them is affected. It is a valuable piece of data that we take into account to help prevent injuries and for calculating workloads, output etc… What we have to do is provide an individual programme to give each player what they need, as each of them is different. We know that there are players who have had the game of their lives during their periods, and others who it has impacted in some way.
Two new teams – one at U-15 level, and another with potential to make the senior squad called the Absoluta Promesas – have been incorporated into the national team set-up. What is hoped to be achieved by that?
It’s a new structure to assist our continued development and something we’re very excited about. As well as strengthening the senior team, you have to enhance your base, which is what we’re doing. We used to start working with the U-16s, which involved girls aged 15 and 16, but by creating a U-15 team, we’ve gained another year and will have 14-year-olds coming to us. Establishing the promesas team was also important, as it will allow us to bridge the gap between the U-20 and senior teams, something that was previously lacking.
And then we have the Goalkeeper Technification Group. Every time we bring together the U-16s, we include seven goalkeepers, who receive training from two former professional keepers – our senior team goalkeeping coach Carlos Sanchez, and Javier Lopez Vallejo, who is also a psychologist.
When football returns, Spain will resume their EURO qualifying campaign, in which great things are expected of the team. Are the players ready to assume that pressure?
No one demands more of the team than we do, and the players themselves. We go out to win every game, every championship. We can already feel the expectations created by the team’s fine performances, and we know that if we qualify for the European Championship, that will be ratcheted up even more. For now, though, we’re just concentrating on qualifying.